surprised to be the only one there -- I mean other than the workers -- because I figured it would be swamped with eyeballers even at that hour. I figured sleeplessness to be a national pastime by now, as opposed to something suffered only by relief volunteers, construction workers, firemen and the like. But I was wrong. So I'll have to return later to see it.
Chris and I flew in last night, having spent a week in Amsterdam and Paris. We figured we needed to brush up on important cultural subjects, such as pot and pornography. For example, after a thorough tour of the Sex Museum in Amsterdam, Chris and I came away with very different conclusions about the art of porno filmmaking. "It's the same movie over and over again," Chris drolled, "a girl and a guy on the bed, a knock at the door, a pizza-delivery guy, blah, blah, blah. Pornography hasn't changed at all throughout history."
"Bullshit," I argued. "Women had real bodies back then, not these chopped-and-formed, made-by-Mattel bodies they have now. And the actors looked like they were having fun, too. They didn't look like performing circus animals." I should have clarified myself there, because as far as I could tell by the evolutionary scale of stag films archived at the Amsterdam Sex Museum, the male actors have always looked like they were having fun. It wasn't until about the mid-'80s that the female actors began to look like they were being beaten by flesh-covered clubs. "I like the old movies better," I concluded. Two days later we left Amsterdam. I guess we had seen enough.
On the train ride to Paris, the sun beamed down on us like it was our personal spotlight until about 2 miles before we reached the city, then it rained for the remainder of our trip like the sky was filled with a constant stampede of urinating race horses. It's hard to enjoy any city, even Paris, in the freezing rain. We made do by ducking into brasseries for beer and baguettes every chance we got. Once, at the table next to us, two older women -- trim, former runway models both -- each tackled a sausage the size of Popeye's forearm in about one trillion tiny little bites. It was like watching two beautiful piranhas devour a dead bison. I sat next to them feeling like a bag of bacon fat, picking at my escargot.
We asked the taxi driver to swing by the Eiffel Tower on the way back to the hotel to see if we could get a view of it through the sheets of sleet. We could. "Look at that," we sighed like the hungry orphans of culture that we are. We left the next day, still shivering. I guess we had seen enough.
But no cold is like the cold of New York right now. It's crisp and piercing. I'm wearing every possible layer I can devise from my suitcase of clothes, and I wanted to wrap Chris' tube socks around my head but he wore them to bed and refused to accompany me. As I said, I've been lurking around Wall Street and Times Square since the middle of the night, waiting for the viewing platform over Ground Zero to open. I'd heard about the smell, the distinct smell of Ground Zero that is supposed to alert you to your proximity to the destruction, pain, loss, love and perseverance the area has grown to signify. But I don't smell anything except fresh coffee right now. Yesterday, when we walked past Carmine's Deli, it smelled so good I wanted to walk inside.
In all, New York smells fine to me. So I need to ask directions back to Ground Zero, and I see an officer standing behind a cordon that had been opened, perhaps to give a truck access or something, so I traverse the distance between us, maybe a block, but before I reach him he starts a conversation with another officer. Lingering there, I realize I'm inside the barricade, and to my right, right there, I see it: A soot-stained canyon in the middle of the city. It's unexpected even though I was expecting it. It's bigger than I could have imagined, and I have a big imagination. And from this vantage, standing on the street next to this officer, I'm afforded just a fragment of the whole. This is just a peek.
The officer turns to direct me on the right path to the viewing platform, but I am already leaving. I guess I have seen enough.